Tuesday, December 13, 2016

To be 'great' or 'stronger together'?

The American Presidential Election of 2016 is likely to be the most acrimonious in recent history as well as a peculiar contest where the outcome depended on who was less unpopular. But what would the outcome mean for India? Nothing dramatic, for the simple reason that India does not figure too high in the US scheme of things.
The elections have focused American attention on how bad things are at home — crumbling infrastructure, unworkable health insurance system, racism, sexism, no jobs for many people and so on. But, whoever is elected will very soon have to confront a world where American power and authority are being assailed. In some measure this is because of the continuing travails of its great ally — the European Union. But also because of the rise of China, and Beijing's choices, whether in building an alliance with Russia, or in challenging US power in the South China Sea.
President Obama understood some of this and tried to take the US away from its unrewarding external commitments such as Afghanistan and Iraq. But the missteps of the Europeans, primarily Britain and France, have created new quagmires in Libya and Syria, even though the Americans have, in the main, have tried to stay away from them. With all this happening, a stable India, which is comfortable with American power is a boon for Washington. India remains a regional power and has no problem creating potential like China and Russia.
Besides, India needs America more than the other way round and all this will be true regardless of who becomes the US President. Indian diplomacy is making little headway with Pakistan and China — its two problem-making neighbours. India needs the US to push back against both. India will be happy with whoever is the President because it understands that there is likely to be little change in the Washington-New Delhi dynamics. As it is the trend line in Indo-US relations is positive. Their strategic coordination is slowly solidifying into a strategic alliance and the more China and Pakistan misbehave, the more Washington will come to rely on New Delhi providing some leverage in the region.
But of course, the situation is not that simple. The emerging Russia-China axis poses challenges in different dimensions to both India and the US. From India's point of view, it distracts the Americans from their Asian pivot where New Delhi plays a larger role. In addition, it undermines the India-Russia relationship which has been one of the constants of the last fifty years. India's feeble domestic defence production capabilities compel it to seek Russian options because the US still remains niggardly in offering up cutting-edge weapons systems.
Then, viewed from another angle, the Sino-US relationship remains substantial and even close, the $659 billion in trade in goods and services between them says so. There is substantive economic interdependence and many suspect that what the Chinese seek is not to supplant the US as the global hegemon, but to be accepted as a partner of sorts. The Chinese relationship is simply too im­p­ortant for either the US or EU to disdain and they have a major stake in its stability and success.
A great of deal of the nature of the Indo-US relationship, under a new American president, will depend on how New Delhi pitches itself to the US. We will be wasting precious capital if we made our membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) as a major touchstone. New Delhi's obsession with the NSG membership is a bit of a mystery, considering we already have the waiver we need on nuclear trade, and the NSG itself has passed a key rule that would limit that trade.
Even more, it would be folly to do as the Modi government is doing — making terrorism the be all and end all of our foreign policy. In the last six months, almost every event, the most recent being the BRICS Summit hosted by us in Goa, has seen New Delhi focus on terrorism. This despite the fact that there has been no major mass-casualty attack targeting civilians (the common definition of terrorism) in the country since the Mumbai attack of 2008.
A new US President, even if it is Trump, is not likely to humour New Delhi on this issue. Pakistan remains important in the US calculus because of Afghanistan, sure, but Islamabad is intrinsically important to the US because it has nuclear weapons and it is close to China. The US is not about to turn its back on Islamabad because India says so.
At the end of the day, the quality of the relationship between India and the US under a new President will depend on the real substance of that relationship — trade, diplomatic give and take, military-to-military ties.
Mid Day November 8, 2016

Modi stirs the hornet’s nest with NDTV media gag

The Modi government has stirred a hornet’s nest in imposing a one-day ban on NDTV India on clearly specious grounds.There is nothing in the report in question that justifies the application of Rule (6)(p) of the Programme Code of Cable TV Network Rules, 1994 which bans the “live coverage of any anti-terrorist operation by security forces”.
Indeed, an Indian Express report says that the specific information that the NDTV report allegedly revealed was itself flawed and even more sensitive information had been given out by other channels.

Free press
The government has carefully chosen to make an example out of a channel which is renowned for its sharp reports and goes out of its way to avoid sensational coverage. 
It would seem that in today’s environment where the world is divided into “nationalists” and “anti-nationals,” there is no space for reporting that questions the official narrative as NDTV India routinely does.
No country provides for the absolute freedom of speech or complete freedom to its media. The American Constitution’s 1st Amendment has exceptions relating to obscenity, defamation, incitement and so on.

NDTV faced a day-long 'black-out' broadcasting banned 'live coverage of any anti-terrorist operation by security forces'
In India’s case, the freedom is further restricted on issues relating to the integrity of the country and even friendly relations with foreign states.
But all democratic countries treasure a free media for the role it plays in stabilising the governmental system - informing people about government actions or warning of their errors and omissions.
In independent India, the free press has been seen as the custodian of its right of free speech.
That is why the Indira Gandhi government was roundly attacked for imposing censorship during the Emergency.
An attempt by the Rajiv Gandhi government to restrict free speech via a new anti-defamation law came a cropper in 1988.

However, in the case of the electronic media, which was, in any case, the exclusive preserve of the government till the 1990s, the bureaucracy found an alternative route to censorship via the Cable TV Network Rules, just as they have done in the case of the Internet.
The background of the NDTV India ban lies in the Mumbai terror strike of November 2008.
It is well known that the terrorist handlers were following Indian media coverage and using it to direct the terrorists holed up in various locales in Mumbai.
But the primary reason for this was the abject failure of the Maharashtra government and the Mumbai Police to establish an effective cordon around the area of the operation.

Common good
Such a responsibility lies with every state and local administration where a terrorist incident may occur.
It is only in the event that a media wantonly breaks the rules that action should be initiated against them.
But what should media do when the authorities do not do their job and then claim that the media broke the rules?
The idea of the freedom of the media evolved with democracy.
As societies became more complex, the need for accurate and timely information was felt.
This was not only for business activities, but governance. Democracy rose with the partisan political parties competing in periodic elections to govern society.
To assist people in making informed choices, there arose a need for a media that could report without fear or favour.
All of society, government and opposition have seen it as a common good. Governments need a free media to alert them to missteps and emerging problems, their challengers need it so that to make their case against an incumbent government.

Official cocoon
In 1977 Mrs Indira Gandhi lost every Lok Sabha seat in an arc from Gujarat to Orissa. She had no clue that things were so bad for the Congress. The reason was that there was no free media to report what was really happening around her.
We are nowhere near that situation today. But the Modi government’s disdain for people who have different views on issues ranging from terrorism, foreign policy o some dietary preferences does not bode well.
Modi himself largely distances himself from the media, preferring to use the one-way communication of Twitter. Eventually, he may end up paying the price.
Power isolates, and absolute power isolates absolutely. One of the most powerful prime ministers of the country, he lives in an official cocoon, dependent on others for information.
Since our babus and ministers are not the most courageous people, they tend to keep negative information away from the boss or massage it to meaninglessness.
A free media, with all its biases and faults remains the best means of keeping a hand on the pulse of the country, something every public man ought to cherish.
Mail Today November 6, 2016

Merging dreams with acquisitions

Chinese economic developments are of great interest to everyone. Whether it is growing fast, or undergoing a slowdown, it impacts the world economy like no other. China has declared its intention of moving its economy from one based on investment and exports, to one relying on consumption. They have made it clear that in the coming years, China will occupy a higher and higher position in global value chains and become, like the US, Europe or Japan, a producer of high-end components. The process is now underway and is being watched with great interest because it has implications for the entire global economy.
Beyond the macro picture, there are smaller signs of structural shifts and new trends in the Chinese economy. In the past, China was often an element in the supply chain, where higher value and high-tech items came from other suppliers, say, Germany, Taiwan or Japan. The famous case was that of the iPhone 6 which retailed for $600 in the US in 2012, of which Apple made $250, the Japanese makers of the touch systems and screens made $70 and smaller amo­unts were made by the Korean and Taiwanese suppliers of the batteries, flash memory, cameras etc. The Chinese made just about $8, mainly in terms of labour cost, to assemble it. But the Chinese are determined to move up in the value chain. The government is working systematically to build high-end capabilities and intends to raise the domestic content of core components and key materials to 40 per cent by 2020 and 70 per cent by 2025. This goes along with higher R&D expenditures of some $213 billion in 2015, equivalent to 2.1 per cent of the GDP.
One indicator of this are the Chinese acquisitions in high-tech industries in Europe and the US, which have accelerated in the past year. This July, Zhongwang, a state supported enterprise, bought Aleris, a US company specialising in making roll­ed aluminium products for aerospace and automotive industries. Earlier this year, Kuka, a German company specialising in making robots for automobile plants, was bought by Midea Group — China’s largest home appliance maker.
More recently, Aixtron, a German company with a long history of making advanced tools required for making sophisticated semiconductors, was bought by the Chinese. The Aixtron case could well point to the problem. Last year, the German company’s share prices tumbled when a Chinese buyer San’an Optronics cancelled a large order at the last minute. As a result, the company went up for sale and a Chinese investment group, Fujian Grand Chip offered to buy it in May, this year. Mercator Institute of Chinese Studies, which tracked the issue, found that San’an and Fujian had a common principal investor in Liu Zhendong. Further, there was a great deal of funding through local and national investment funds for both companies from the Chinese government that has set aside funds to encourage a Chinese semiconductor industry.
China has an eye on US firms too, though the latter keeps a more wary eye on them through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CIFUS) which has shot down big-ticket investments like the one for Fairchild Semiconductors. Likewise, Beijing’s Unisplendour Co­rp withdrew from a deal to buy a stake in Western Digital due to regulatory pressure.
One major area to watch is the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI). A White House assessment of AI research indicates that today China with 350 publications leads the field with the US at number two, with a little over 250. All other players — UK, Australia, Canada, Japan, Germany, Singapore, South Korea or France — produce a little above 50 or a little less than that. This is not just an absolute lead — looked at through their citations by other scholars (a measure of their influence) indicates Chi­na remains number one. Baidu, China’s equivalent of Google, runs a huge centre for AI research in San Jose, where its chief scientist, Andrew Ng is also an associate professor at the Stanford University’s co­m­puter science department. This centre employs some of the topmost American AI researchers.
All developing countries want technology for national developm­ent. But China has made it into a fine art. Reverse-engineered Soviet technology kept China going till 1990s. Thereafter, as it opened up, China made strategic acquisitions in areas like railways, power, aerospace and automotives with a view to establish its own industries. In this drive, China has not hesitated to undertake industrial espionage and cyber-theft. Then, using opaque rules and regulations, the Chinese have systematically encouraged their champions and fobbed off the western companies and in many instances now, they have emerged as their competitors — railways and nuclear power reactors are two prominent examples.
But this is only the beginning, China has now taken aim in a range of high-end fields like AI, robotics, aerospace, renewable energy, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology and intends to be the world leader in all of them by the time of their twin centenary — 2049, the anniversary of the revolution.
Mid Day October 25, 2016

Modi's limited Pakistan policy at BRICS

The Modi government’s recent policy towards Pakistan - which has included a combination of surgical strikes, naming and shaming Islamabad, and using international events to isolate and sanction it - has been described as a "game changer".
Certainly the government has expended a vast deal of diplomatic capital in trying to get Pakistan to modify its behavior and principally end the sanctuary and support it offers to a slew of anti-India and anti-Afghanistan jihadis.

However, the game will have changed, only after Islamabad does what's needed.
As of now there are no indications that it will do so.
In other words, it would be wise to declare victory when victory indeed occurs, not prematurely.
The limitation of New Delhi’s policies was apparent in the recent BRICS summit.
Host India’s primary focus was to get this powerful grouping to chastise Pakistan. 
Few will deny that despite paragraphs generally criticising terrorism, the body failed to depict Pakistan as that unique fountainhead of global terrorism that India had been talking about.
Pakistan has brought a lot of this on its own head.
Prime Minister Modi had put out a lot of capital in trying to befriend his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif.
However, the attack on Pathankot, shortly after his surprise descent in Islamabad, forced Modi to shift to a tough line.
Now, following the Uri attack, the government has hardened that line into a new policy that indicates that New Delhi will not simply seek to shield its territory, but retaliate against any attack whose footprints lead to Pakistan.
The insistent question confronting Prime Ministers since Chandrashekhar, who was the PM when J&K blew up in 1990, even as Punjab was burning, is: 'Should we seek to “manage” Pakistan, or to change it'. 
Many Indian liberals, who say that our common culture unites South Asia, believe that once the baleful influence of the military is removed, Pakistan will be like any other country in the region.
On the other hand, hard-headed pragmatists say that this may or may not happen but anyway - A: It is not the responsibility of India to bring it change Pakistan and - B: It requires so much time and effort that it will distract New Delhi from its other larger economic and diplomatic goals.
Leaders stand for a group photo wearing traditional Indian vests during a informal dinner at the start of the BRICS Summit at the Taj Exotica Hotel
So Indian policy alternates between reaching out to the civilian governments and the business community, to blocking and, on occasion, hitting back at the military- backed jihadis who attack India.
We are now at a unique conjuncture where a government, which can hardly be called liberal, is moving along the path of trying to change Pakistan.
It is seeking to do this through tough love - calling for the international community to isolate and sanction Islamabad.
The problem is that the international community is simply not buying this. There are various reasons for this.
Firstly, is the infirmity in New Delhi’s case in refusing to recognise that it has a problem in Jammu and Kashmir and it needs to do something about it, other than blaming Pakistan.
Secondly, many recognise that the repeated references to terrorism by Modi are also occasioned by domestic electoral considerations, especially to coming Uttar Pradesh elections.
Thirdly, Islamabad remains an important player in the Afghanistan game, an issue of considerable interest to the United States, China and Russia.

The recent effort to restart the Taliban-Afghan government talks in Doha is an indicator that Pakistan remains the key player there.
Finally, India offers little or nothing to Beijing to moderate, leave alone abandon, support to Islamabad.
At least it has given Russia a multi-billion dollar arms deal, and even then, Moscow has been grudging with its support.
International relations are a ruthless affair where nations pursue their interests and modify their behaviour when threatened with the stick, or offered some carrots.
All India has on offer to China is high rhetoric and a pathetic boycott of Chinese firecrackers, and yet it wants Beijing to fall in line behind India in South Asia.
The simple fact that it is we who need something from China, not the other way round, hasn’t sunk into the minds of the powers that be and their supporters.
It is certainly true that India should play hardball in international politics.
But to do so you also need the wherewithal, not just in terms of dollars which are important, or guns to export, but also in a clear headed understanding of where our national interests lie, how to further them and how not to allow any considerations, especially domestic political ones, like a desire to win elections to over-ride them. 
Mail Today October 23, 2016

What is so secret about the information even India's enemies know?

What is a secret? Sometimes, it is a conundrum presented this way: The Indian “surgical strikes” across the line of control are a secret at varying levels not only in India, but also in Pakistan. In Islamabad, information on them is kept under wraps because to acknowledge is to lose face. On the other hand, New Delhi is cagey about giving any more details, because they were (a) more limited than has been made out by those who want to use them for political effect and/or (b) so as to keep the impact of the operation within manageable limits and (c) not reveal the modus operandi of the forces.
To further develop this point: In the 1993-2016 period, too, cross-border strikes were carried out, but kept secret. Considering that the enemy who had been hit, knew about them, why did the government of the day keep them a secret?
Likewise, when the government buys equipment abroad, it provides specifications to several foreign companies, yet, keeps them, as well as the acquisitions procedure and processes, secret from the public.

Secrets and secrets

The government generates an enormous amount of information in its daily activity. Some of this information is about future plans, the rest is part of the process of governance – actions taken or to be taken, after action reports, directives, letters, notations, orders and so on. Some of it must be kept confidential or secret for a period of time, otherwise governance would become difficult. Some of it needs to be kept confidential so as not to damage relations with other countries. And then, there is information about military plans and procedures, the capabilities and capacities of military equipment and their deployment, which could aid enemies of the country.
But there are no absolute secrets. Decisions are implemented, directives acted upon, systems selected and acquired and therefore the information about them is known at some point in time, military equipment gets obsolete or so much more sophisticated that old plans change. So secrets are limited in time and value, though there is one category of secrets that are held very, very carefully – that of high level penetrations of the political, military, diplomatic and administrative personnel of a target country.
These are often, literally, kept forever. The reason is, of course, that such a high level of betrayal is punishable by death in many countries. But, more important, keeping their names secret is a means through which the recruiting country assures potential future agents that their betrayal will never be revealed, in other words it is an incentive for recruitment. After all if it is known that a particular country is casual with its agents, it is unlikely to remain in the business of what is known as Humint (human intelligence – covert intelligence-gathering by agents) for very long.
When the British left India, the one thing they took with them in entirety were intelligence files, and you can be sure there would be some very well known names amongst our revered national leaders who were their informants. Likewise, the Intelligence Bureau holds tight the list of its informants in various political parties. Were these lists to be leaked, the IB would be out of the business of political intelligence, which is its real bread and butter.
All parts of the government, especially those involved in security like the armed forces, intelligence agencies, and so on, have a system of ascending scale of classification – confidential, restricted, secret and top secret – which is determined by section officers, under secretaries and deputy secretaries or their equivalent officers.

Official Secrets Act, 1923

The problem often is in defining what exactly is a secret. The vagueness over what is secret begins from the archaic Official Secrets Act of 1923 which was essentially aimed at military threats against India and remains the main legislation dealing with the issue of preserving secrets.
It seeks punishment for any person who obtained “any secret code password, sketch, plan model, article or note or any other document” that could adversely affect the sovereignty and integrity of the country, its security, or friendly relations with another country. Such a person was liable to be punished with three years imprisonment. On the other hand, if this activity related to a military facility, or the affairs of the military, the imprisonment could be up to 14 years.
The OSA’s infirmities have been manifest in many a court decision where the prosecution has fumbled on the issue of defining what is secret. Why do you think that this country has never punished a spy with death or life imprisonment? It is not that we are so patriotic that we have never had a spy or traitor who deserves such a punishment, but that our law is as infirm as our counter-intelligence capabilities.
But while the OSA is clear, and does provide a legal definition, howsoever obsolete as to what is secret, we have no clarity about the sanctity of the documents of the other departments of government, including the Cabinet and the Prime Minister’s Office or, for that matter, the Finance Ministry.
That is why, you rarely get a prosecution of a person for stealing secrets and that is also the reason that when the police catch low level ISI field agents, they are always alleged to have a diary or maps and sketches with them. I say alleged, because in the era of satellites and cameras, you don’t need sketches and maps to be drawn by some low level operative. What an agent may need is the ability to determine whether a particular bridge or culvert can hold a 50 tonne tank, and none of the agents that are caught have either the equipment or the education to determine that though they can probably purchase the information from the government office where the designs are kept.

Declassification of records

The government of India has taken the progressive view that the public has right to all information on governmental functioning and has passed two legislations – the Right to Information Act in 2005 and the Public Records Act of 1993 to create a practical regime for the citizens to secure access to information under the control of public authorities. This has been done with a view of encouraging transparency and accountability, but making information public needs to be an end in itself.
However, neither of the acts are working too well. The RTI is being used by people to settle scores, while the Public Records Act is ignored. Because of faulty procedures, many documents, particularly of field formations, exist as functional files and kept only till they are current or useful, and they are destroyed thereafter. The decisions are often made by junior officers with little understanding of the historical value of a particular document or file.
They need to understand the importance of the need to preserve past records for scrutiny after an interval and through the due process of declassification. This enables succeeding generation of government officials an invaluable past perspective on a decision. It also enriches the field of historical research, they offer us a means of accessing our past. Detailed information on past conflicts or decisions is important for the succeeding generation of security officials to learn lessons from.
Separating the routine and the confidential is an important aspect of government policy. Routine information should be easily available to the public, but equally, in the interests of the people, the government needs to work out a uniform system for classifying, safeguarding and declassifying national security related information. It must set up classification standards, levels of classification, categorise classification authority, duration of classification and the process of declassification or downgrading the classification of a document. None of this exists at present.
The government needs to evolve a modern system of classifying, safeguarding and declassifying national security information, if needs be by amending or replacing the Official Secrets Act.
The ministries of external affairs, defence and home affairs have taken up work on one aspect of the Public Records Act – that of creating special record rooms where classified documents can be properly stored. However, they have largely ignored the second, and more important, aspect – declassifying old records and passing them on to the National Archives where they can be accessible to the citizen.
The big problem they face is the issue of declassification. They simply lack the manpower to deal with the issue. October 23, 2016

In Comparing India to Israel, Modi Ignores Fundamental Differences Between the Two

Israel’s history, geographical area and position all contribute to its offense-based military strategy; however, the same factors don’t apply to India.

 An Israeli soldier directs a tank during an exercise in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, near the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria, August 21, 2015. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Referring to the cross-border strikes of September 30 in Himachal Pradesh on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi bragged, “Earlier one heard about Israel doing such a thing, now the country has seen that the Indian army is no less”. Even Modi should have realised that comparing Indian action “along” the Line of Control with Israeli covert and military operations was hyperbole, pure and simple. But the fetishisation of Israel runs deep in the Sangh parivar and its reason is no secret – deep anti-Islamism.
Modi is, anyway, comparing apples and oranges, but in electoral politics everything is fair game. An Israeli general once brought out the basic difference to me: “We are just 15 kilometres wide at our narrowest point, whereas you are thousands of kilometres in length and breadth. Who will invade you and where will they reach even if they do?” This partly explains Israel’s continuing military occupation of Palestine while “India has never been hungry for land nor has it attacked anyone or coveted anyone’s territory,” as Modi put it on October 2.
Nothing could be more different than the histories of the two countries, even though they became modern independent states around the same time. Israel emerged as a Jewish state, somewhat akin to Pakistan’s emergence as a Muslim state, while the enormously diverse India chose to be secular.
As a consequence of the Holocaust, the need for security runs deep in Israel’s DNA.  Given its geographic and demographic limitations, the Israeli defence forces have developed a military doctrine that involves fighting  battles outside Israel’s home territory, whereas the Indian posture, shaped by its vast size and population, has been largely defensive. Although India’s military plans have catered for offensive actions against Pakistan, executing these plans has been difficult, given that both countries are evenly matched when it comes to conventional warfare. The operations in East Pakistan in 1971 are a notable exception.

What distinguishes Israeli operations?
 There are two aspects to the Israeli operations. The first is the Mossad’s covert ops to foil terrorist strikes and deter assaults on Israeli targets, the second has been a series of military wars and operations, some launched by various Arab states and some by Israel, on non-state entities like the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Hezbollah and Hamas.
Many of these covert operations are well known, such as Operation Bayonet or Wrath of God which aimed at avenging the killing of 11 Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972. Just how persistent it was is apparent from the fact that the operation went on for 20 years and involved making daring strikes deep into Lebanese territory, using paratroopers and naval commandos as well as a campaign to bomb countries like France, Cyprus and Greece. There are many pros and cons to taking such actions, one of the significant cons being the deaths of many innocent bystanders. Mossad may have  succeeded in ending Palestinian terrorism against Israeli targets abroad, but it probably enhanced Israel’s insecurities closer to home.
Israel has been involved in direct military action for decades now, beginning with the 1956 Arab-Israeli War, followed by the Six Day war of 1967, the 1967-70 War of Attrition, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1982 first Lebanon War, the 2006 second Lebanon War and more recently  the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict. Each conflict has brought the violence closer home to Israel and the outcome of the last two wars – in Gaza and Lebanon in 2014 indicates that Israel’s adversaries remain unbowed, armed and dangerous.
The Israeli military’s performance against its external adversaries like Egypt and Syria has been outstanding, if not brilliant. The destruction of the Egyptian air force on the eve of the Six Day war in 1967 was a coup which unbalanced the Arab front.  Israel’s ability to weather the Yom Kippur surprise in 1973 and even turn the tables through launching a counter-attack across the Suez Canal and over the Golan heights was an outstanding military feat. The key driver for Israeli commanders was the feeling that, given their geography, they had no choice but to move forward. In other words, their actions were shaped as much by their geography as by the foundational insecurity of the Jewish state. Given the military balance which was deeply tilted against them in both the Suez and Golan areas, their achievement was an outcome of the skill and grit of Israel’s military professionals.

The limitations of a military approach
But these brilliant military achievements have not brought peace. Occupying territory with a large number of people who have no love for Israel is a problem that is not going away. While there is tentative peace in the West Bank, the situation in Gaza, which is under the control of Hamas, remains constantly tense. Israel has accepted that both Hezbollah and Hamas continue to pose a significant threat to the state despite its recent military campaigns against them. In both, the 2006 war against Hezbollah and the 2014 campaign against Hamas, Israel found the going tough and essentially fought to a draw, even though Palestine and the Hezbollah took much heavier casualties. An American officer’s assessment of the 2014 Israel-Gaza war indicates that the next round of conflict could be more violent and that Hamas could impose heavier costs on Israel.
When admiring Israel’s military, one must also keep two important facts in mind. The first is Israel’s friendship with the US, which comes with many benefits, firstly in the form of military and economic aid – the highest in per capita terms – as well as political support, enough to prompt some into terming Israel the 51st state of the US. The second important factor to remember is Israel’s aysmmetric nuclear weapons capability, whose role in shaping the outcome of the 1973 war is a matter of some controversy.
What all this tells us is that there is a limit to the extent that the military can be used to solve political problems. The one country with which Israel has made peace is Egypt and that was done through negotiation and compromise. The troubles in Syria, whose Golan heights have been annexed by Israel, have come as a bonus of sorts. In Lebanon, there is a standoff.  But there seems to be little to no scope for finding a solution to one of the main Israeli dilemmas – the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Although the latter is not militarily occupied, its air space and coast line are under Israeli control. Israel appears condemned to being the guardian of the world’s biggest outdoor prison— peopled by three million or so Palestinians who are surrounded by a wall, not to keep them in, but to keep them out. Israel is afraid to let them go, even as it is scared of holding on to them.
There are few lessons in Israel’s handling of Palestinians that are applicable to India. Those who find Israeli methods worthy of emulation may not be aware that a large number, roughly 25%, of Israelis are Muslims who vote in elections and work alongside citizens of other faiths. Israeli policy towards Palestine is motivated less by anti-Islamism, than an old fashioned territorial quarrel – the fact that the Israelis have occupied the land of the Palestinians and the latter naturally resent this and fight back.
Hezbollah’s rise as a consequence of  Israel’s successful removal of the PLO from Lebanon is a lesson in the unintended consequences of military success. With deep roots in Lebanon, Hezbollah is much more difficult to deal with. Likewise, the Israeli defeat of the PLO has led to the rise of Hamas, a group with whom negotiation is difficult. The recent cycles of violence have been intense indeed and there is no indication that they are at an end. Israel has a superb military, an outstanding intelligence service, advanced weapons and equipment, sensors of all kinds and a wall. But it is not exactly in a happy place.
The Wire October 20, 2016